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Plastic fantastic?
February 20, 2011 12:53 PM   Subscribe

Plastic fantastic? An unpublished United Kingdom Environment Agency research report apparently shows that plastic bags, which are banned in more than 25% of the world may actually be less harmful than those made of cotton or paper.

"HDPE bags are, for each use, almost 200 times less damaging to the climate than cotton hold-alls favoured by environmentalists, and have less than one third of the CO2 emissions than paper bags which are given out by retailers such as Primark."

Plastic bags and their environmental effects have previously featured on Metafilter a couple of times.
posted by jonesor (68 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
They're only talking about carbon footprint, though. Surely the litter and disposal aspects have something to do here as well.
posted by dellsolace at 12:58 PM on February 20, 2011 [11 favorites]


Does this study take into account that most reuseable cloth bags can hold two or three times as much as a single plastic bag and that most baggers double bag when they use plastic bags? So in a lot of cases one cloth bag = 4 - 6 plastic bags.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 1:00 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why is it unpublished?
posted by flatluigi at 1:04 PM on February 20, 2011


Maybe when this unpublished, un-peer-reviewed work is peer-reviewed and published it will be worth discussing.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 1:06 PM on February 20, 2011 [26 favorites]


Still undergoing peer review according to the people who commissioned it. Vast cotton bag manufacturer conspiracy, according to others.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:08 PM on February 20, 2011


100 plastic bags = 0.33 paper bags = 0.01 cotton bags
posted by stbalbach at 1:09 PM on February 20, 2011


Why is it unpublished?

Either because it's still being peer-reviewed and maybe there are methodology problems extending that process longer than the norm, or because the ruthless and all-powerful eco-cabal has brutally suppressed the report through its many and nefarious agents. The UK's Packaging and Films Association, in any case, seems to suspect the latter. And whose interests are less vested in this report's findings than the UK's Packaging and Films Association? I'm sure nobody's, according to the UK's Packaging and Films Association.
posted by gompa at 1:10 PM on February 20, 2011 [8 favorites]


They don't mention other types of reusable bags either like vinyl or polyester.
But even that's besides the point, litter is the main reason plastic bags are bad, not carbon footprint.
posted by j03 at 1:10 PM on February 20, 2011


See, here's something that concerns me "Most paper bags are used only once and one study assumed cotton bags were used only 51 times before being discarded, making them – according to this new report – worse than single-use plastic bags. "

So do they know how often the bags get re-used? What are they basing their assumptions on? Seems like you could get a rough estimate by taking the number of sales in local stores dividing by the number of carrier bags sold over a period after plastic bags were banned, and subtracting the number of paper bags used.

Also, this is a study that seems based on comparing carbon emissions, which is important, but not the sine qua non of environmental responsibility.
posted by Grimgrin at 1:11 PM on February 20, 2011


I always request plastic bags over paper if I've forgotten to bring my canvas bags. I have other uses for plastic bags, and if I don't, I recycle them. There's a lot of environmental nastiness involved in producing paper, so I consider them both equally crappy.

Also, only very heavy things get double bagged for me when I get plastic bags. The same stuff that gets double bagged when I get paper bags, actually.
posted by wierdo at 1:16 PM on February 20, 2011


Arguing in favor of plastic, IMHO, is stupid. Studies have shown that plastic doesn't degrade, it just gets smaller and smaller and never gets completely incorporated into the biosphere as any kind of usable resource in the same way that paper or cotton does. [also this -pdf]

Let me put it another way - imagine a computer without the ability to delete any content, including files, cache, cookies, indexes or page files. You'd have to go out any buy another computer or hard drive pretty fast. We cannot just go out and buy another planet.

There is just no way to fully get rid of that plastic, save for the heat-death of the universe, but at that point, we might just have more important problems to worry about.
posted by Monkey0nCrack at 1:17 PM on February 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


Does this study take into account that most reuseable cloth bags can hold two or three times as much as a single plastic bag and that most baggers double bag when they use plastic bags? So in a lot of cases one cloth bag = 4 - 6 plastic bags.

Yeah, but a lot of people do not wash or clean their reusuable cloth bags and unknowingly spread all sorts of wonderful things in the process. All the fun of watching someone stick their running shoes that they just walked through the dog park in the same bag they carry their tomatoes and celery sticks in...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 1:17 PM on February 20, 2011


Hmm, yeah I think people are more worried about the disposal and land-fill issues with plastic bags, not the carbon emissions or whatever. In fact from a global warming perspective plastic bags are a carbon sink, because the oil used to create them won't get burned.
posted by delmoi at 1:18 PM on February 20, 2011


I've definitely used mine more than 51 times at this point, although I am on the verge of going to upgrade to larger nylon ones because, since I live alone at present and cannot talk my girlfriend into coming over just to help me unload the groceries from the car, I'd prefer something I can put over my shoulder.

But I'll still be keeping the little ones, just in case they come in handy; they won't be going into a landfill until they're unusable and unmendable.

This sounds like "when people waste reusable bags the way they waste everything else, they're wasteful", which is not really news precisely or a reason not to use reusable bags.
posted by gracedissolved at 1:18 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I have a cotton bag that I've used for about 20 years, so I'm pretty sure it's better than the couple of thousand bags I would have used (2 bags/week, about).
posted by Huck500 at 1:18 PM on February 20, 2011


There is just no way to fully get rid of that plastic, save for the heat-death of the universe, but at that point, we might just have more important problems to worry about.

It does eventually degrade after thousands of years.
posted by delmoi at 1:19 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


unload the groceries from the car

You're doing it wrong.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 1:27 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Monkey0nCrack: "Arguing in favor of plastic, IMHO, is stupid."

Arguing in favor of paper has its own problems. Paper doesn't really degrade in landfills, either. Nothing does. Thus, you lose any of the benefit of paper unless you recycle it, which puts you back at parity with the plastic bag. The only advantage to paper is that if some jackass tosses their paper bag on the side of the road, it'll probably biodegrade in a year or so, presuming you live in a reasonably moist climate.

Only reusable bags that actually get reused are any benefit at all.
posted by wierdo at 1:28 PM on February 20, 2011


Why are cotton bags so high carbon footprint? Is it growing the cotton or some sort of manufacturing process issue?
posted by Justinian at 1:32 PM on February 20, 2011


I like the approach we've used in Ontario. Plastic bags aren't banned, but the law is that stores must charge 5 cents apiece for them. With the result that people now use cloth bags way more than they did. Overnight I saw a huge difference in people what people carried stuff in on the TTC. It's gone from (guesstimate here) ten percent of people carrying things in cloth bags and ninety percent of people carrying things in plastic bags, to the reverse. And it's saved the store owners some money. Now that's win-win.
posted by orange swan at 1:35 PM on February 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


I use the plastic bags as garbage bags, I am cheap.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:36 PM on February 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Paper doesn't really degrade in landfills, either. Nothing does.

Well, no, tons of stuff degrades in landfills, mostly as the result of bacterial action. A lot of it turns into landfill gas, which is a roughly 50:50 mixture of methane and carbon dioxide. These days the methane is frequently captured and burned for power. Letting it escape into the atmosphere is actually worse, since the greenhouse potential of methane is much higher than that of carbon dioxide.

Why are cotton bags so high carbon footprint? Is it growing the cotton or some sort of manufacturing process issue?

Probably growing the cotton. Cotton is a fairly nitrogen intensive crop (50-80 lbs of nitrogen fertilizer required per bale, depending on the soil). Fertilizer production is extremely energy intensive. About 1-2% of the entire world's energy usage goes to nitrogen fertilizer production through the Haber process.
posted by jedicus at 1:36 PM on February 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yeah, but a lot of people do not wash or clean their reusuable cloth bags and unknowingly spread all sorts of wonderful things in the process. All the fun of watching someone stick their running shoes that they just walked through the dog park in the same bag they carry their tomatoes and celery sticks in...

Are you following people home from the dog park and then to the grocery store to see if they're using the same bag? If not, then how do you know? If you're talking about your friends, they aren't "a lot of people." Also, I don't understand how your comment had anything to do with what I said. A lot of people don't wash a lot of things that spread all sorts of wonderful things in the process, I don't see how cotton reuseable bags get the sole blame from you. If you want to talk nasty, the bottoms of purses are nasty, filthy things. But then again the space in my brain isn't really occupied with that because I'm not a germ freak.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 1:37 PM on February 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


If the problem is just the cotton, then why not use nylon bags?
posted by delmoi at 1:38 PM on February 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh, shipping the bags may be problematic, too, since I imagine a lot of them are produced overseas using cotton grown in Central Asia. That's a lot of transport fuel.
posted by jedicus at 1:39 PM on February 20, 2011


Ah, I'll just go back to using my bags made out of the fur of endangered species then.
posted by Justinian at 1:40 PM on February 20, 2011


Funny thing, I've been getting a lot of cotton bags from stores lately. The reusable kind.

I bought a jacket from Brooklyn Industries: got one
I bought a winter hat from Urban Outfitters: got a real big one
I bought something from a pet store: got one
There are 4 or 5 others sitting on a shelf that I got from other places, just in the past couple months.

A lot of stores here (NYC) are handing these out like as if they're plastic bags. I'm not going to re-use all of these bags. They're all essentially single-use big bags, and I can't see, beyond placating enviro-yuppies, that this does any good. In fact, this just makes everything worse.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 1:46 PM on February 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm still using cotton bags i've had for most of a decade. But i'm still using some plastic bags for that long too - i move a lot (student, poor) so eg all my socks and knickers live in bags i can take to the laundrette, empty, boil-wash, put stuff back in, take home, keep in not very clean landlord's chest of drawers, pack in a second into a suitcase, put in another drawer... Plastic bags disintegrate after about ten years. Keeping it in your drawer is using it once, but continuously...

Like most middle-aged women, i never leave the house without a shopping bag, rather than handbag, and that is always cotton because it can be boil-washed. (Young people: the boil wash was for whites, which also get bleached. Young people seem to wash everything on 30 degrees and use no bleach, but then they leave food on the plates they wash too. Culture-change.) I have had the same 2 bags on rotation (one in the laundry, one to use) for a year, and i leave the house regularly. But i haven't counted my usage rate.... Is it being used when it's in the socks-laundry bag, waiting to go to the laundrette for it's boil-and-bleach? We used to say 'Working class woman: if it moves, feed it; if it doesn't, clean it.' Or with bleach in place of clean. ^_^
posted by maiamaia at 1:47 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Many don't "boil wash" because it is very wasteful for energy.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 1:49 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also unnecessary given modern washers and detergents. Unless you've got cholera patients or something.
posted by Justinian at 2:10 PM on February 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


When I go hiking and snorkeling, I have seen at least 1,000 plastic bags per reusable tote.
posted by snofoam at 2:14 PM on February 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I get plastic bags only for meat (and pay 5 cents for the privilege). When I unwrap the meat from its packaging, the wrapping material gets put into that plastic bag and into the freezer. Every two weeks, the accumulation of potentially stinky organic wrappings from that bag in the freezer goes into regular garbage; organics go in the green bin weekly, and recyclables go into the blue bin every two weeks. So one plastic bag every two weeks feels fair.

Veggies and fruits go in the flimsy plastic bags in the produce department and then onto the conveyer belt at the cash (where there's a good chance someone's meat has leaked juices from its packaging), then into my cloth bag (typically recycled plastic fabric). The fabric bags get washed in cold wash on a regular basis. No washing machine in the world will actually get your water to sterilizing temperature, but a good wash and allowing the material to dry means that bacteria are mostly swept away in the wash and later die off from lack of moisture in the dry bag.
posted by maudlin at 2:19 PM on February 20, 2011


My burning question about plastic bags versus reusable bags is:

How do people who don't get plastic bags at the grocery store clean the catbox?
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 2:23 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


How do people who don't get plastic bags at the grocery store clean the catbox?

They buy a dog.
posted by nathancaswell at 2:25 PM on February 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


And then they buy a bunch of baggies in order to scoop up after their dog.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:28 PM on February 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


And then they buy a bunch of baggies in order to scoop up after their dog.

If only cats ate dog shit the poop circle could be closed
posted by nathancaswell at 2:30 PM on February 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


In my experience, it's easier to get dogs to eat cat shit.

More accurately:

In my experience, it's sometimes really difficult to get dogs not to eat cat shit.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:33 PM on February 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


i was already assuming that hypothetical dog ate hypothetical cat shit, thats who was cleaning the litter box in the absence of plastic bags
posted by nathancaswell at 2:36 PM on February 20, 2011


Why is it unpublished?

Good question.

Another good question is what to do with all the heavy metals that end up in the environment from plastic bag manufacturing.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:44 PM on February 20, 2011


And then they buy a bunch of baggies in order to scoop up after their dog.

Let me guess, the next step is goat, right?

It is worth noting that, to our ravenous ecosphere, little is actually forever locked away. Thanks to evolution, our huge inert mass is next eon's ecological niche for a bright young bacterium looking to make its way in the world.

That doesn't mean that we can't make the world sucky or even impossible to live in for us and the other life on Earth in the meantime, of course.
posted by JHarris at 2:46 PM on February 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


How do people who don't get plastic bags at the grocery store clean the catbox?

We use hippie flushable litter like nature's miracle (before someone lectures me on the evils of flushing, all the research I've done indicates that toxoplasmosis from cat poop in marine animals is caused by strays pooping on the ground/groundwater run-off).
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:51 PM on February 20, 2011


Funny thing, I've been getting a lot of cotton bags from stores lately. The reusable kind.... A lot of stores here (NYC) are handing these out like as if they're plastic bags. I'm not going to re-use all of these bags.

So why are you taking them?

It's really a two-part problem: getting stores and consumers to behave more responsibly. Back in the days when plastic bags were free I seldom accepted them from stores, but it would mean that I had to say, "No bag, thanks... no bag, thanks.... no bag, thanks" and then still have to take my purchase out of the bag the employee put it in because she or he was on autopilot and not listening to me.
posted by orange swan at 2:54 PM on February 20, 2011


So why are you taking them?

So the things that I purchased could be carried away from the store.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 3:14 PM on February 20, 2011


In terms of production, sure. The water requirement of cotton and/or paper versus plastic. However, if we're talking supply chain effects and disposal effect, no way. Paper will biodegrade and is valuable as a post-consumer product. Cotton, even more so. Plastic requires a ton of energy to recycle (moreso than either paper or cotton). Most of that energy is carbon-based. And that's if it is recycled.

This is a non-starter. It's like saying electric vehicles are worse than Hummers. Granted there is some truth somewhere in the argument however the sustainable options have multiple inputs and multiple waste streams, thus it's a matter of proximity and degree whereas plastic does f*ck the planet.
posted by nickrussell at 3:31 PM on February 20, 2011


The trick, Three Way Handshake, is to take one to the shop with you in the first place, and put your things in that. That's the "re-using" part of re-usable bags. It requires a smidgen of forethought.
posted by Jilder at 3:32 PM on February 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


This is why I use ceramic bags mined from a red clay deposit in my backyard. Also my upper body strength is amazing!
posted by Splunge at 3:43 PM on February 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


The biggest problem I see is that too many people are simply married to their ideas about plastic bags. The paper needs better scrutiny to hold up, I think. But the counterarguments here also unconvincing. The idea that plastic bags are bad reads more a matter of faith and/or aesthetics.
posted by 2N2222 at 3:53 PM on February 20, 2011


So the things that I purchased could be carried away from the store.

Couldn't you pull one of the bags you already have off the shelf and bring it with you when you go shopping?
posted by I've a Horse Outside at 3:55 PM on February 20, 2011


I love plastic bags and hope Aus dosen't completely ban them. I reuse them constantly - for protecting comics in my canvas messenger bag, as garbage bags, etc. They're handy to have around
Greens will probably ban them
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 4:04 PM on February 20, 2011


I probably have about 20 cloth bags acquired through various means, many for 50 cents or free. Including one nice insulated/zipper version that works well for cold stuff in the summer. The ones I use for gym clothes or kid stuff are used for that only, and used constantly.

But my main bag is a giant Land's End rubber-bottom canvas dealie I got as a present years ago; that sucker can hold a crapload of cans/can handle detergent bottles and other heavy stuff. And it wears like iron and washes up great.

I get around the OMGGERMS aspect by not actually buying meat all that often and by using plastic bags as wrap when I do. I'm pretty sure eight cans of garbanzo beans won't spread disease.

My biggest problem is getting family members to remember to take the fucking bags with them when they go places, to the point I hang the bags on a hook next to the door and put a sign that says "BAGS" next to the door handle. And they STILL forget. So I would welcome a nickel charge per bag for plastic, because I think that might finally jostle their memories.
posted by emjaybee at 4:33 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've got a pair of French string bags that I bought in '89 or '90, when I was an overwrought twenty-something college student who obsessively read Garbage Magazine and the Real Goods catalog in between school and work. I had a Diva fixation, a copper kettle orange '79 Motobecane Mobylette that was my daily commuter on the 24 mile roundtrip between home and school, and a love of great big cinematic Frenchness with a capital F. Groceries looked gorgeous in those string bags, clipped to the little hook on the moped that was made specifically for that purpose.

On the road, I was Jules, and on foot, I was Hulot, though no one knew it back then—handing two neatly wadded string bags to a checkout lady in '90 and saying "I've got my own bags" got a reaction akin to telling someone that you made your own ketchup, or cut your own hair. They'd fuss with the bags, make a surprised comment that those little things would just stretch and stretch to enormous sizes, and I'd toddle out with all my purchases on display, clip on, give Le Mobylette a little bit of pedal, and zoom off in a trail of blue smoke.

Back then, I was convinced I was going to be a worthy spokesmodel for engaged, artful, and cinematic living, but I'm still the only guy I see parking a smoky little euro-bike at the store and coming out with those lovely string bags, alas. These days, it's the farmer's market, and I'm more of a badly dressed shambling schlump of a guy than I am a suave revolutionaire, but those string bags are going strong, twenty-some years later. I think I paid four or five bucks apiece for them, which seemed outrageous in my poverty stricken youth, but have turned out to be one of my better investments. I have a hard time believing that those bags are any worse for the environment than twenty-some years of paper or plastic, but maybe I'm not doing my math right.

I've had a few new bags in the interim, nice-looking freebies from local bus companies, the library, and the manufacturers of the Smart car, but they're invariably made of some "recycled" fabric made out of old bottles or something and work well for about a month or two (more if you don't let them ever see the sun) and then suddenly turn to shreds while you're walking home from the meat market, leaving you to carry a pile of meat home with your shirt gathered up like an apron.
posted by sonascope at 4:38 PM on February 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


I like the approach we've used in Ontario. Plastic bags aren't banned, but the law is that stores must charge 5 cents apiece for them.

As of the first of this month, it's 25 cents per plastic bag at all stores here in my city.
posted by ODiV at 4:39 PM on February 20, 2011


Yeah, I have a couple of largish canvas bags that I have been using at least once a week for... I dunno, 5 years? They get washed occasionally, but only hold food from the grocery (or the odd six pack of beer) because, well, I don't put shoes in my food bags. They look like they will last at least 5 more, so that's something like 10x more than 51 times. But maybe I am an outlier....
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:43 PM on February 20, 2011


Well, no, tons of stuff degrades in landfills

Most landfills are "sanitary landfills", which are explicitly designed to minimize biological action. Why? Partly because bacterial action usually implies some sort of groundwater access to the landfill, and that means that all the toxic stuff (heavy metals, crazy organic chemicals) and pathogens in the garbage stream will come out and start circulating in the groundwater. This is undesirable. You can't avoid it entirely, which is why landfills have complicated an expensive leachate and gas collection and treatment systems.


As for plastic bags... even with my somewhat forgetful use of nylon reusable bags, I get few enough plastic bags with groceries now that they never just get thrown away. They all get used as bin liners, wrapped around paintbrushes, etc etc etc. If I got any fewer, I'd have to purchase small plastic bags explicitly.
posted by hattifattener at 4:50 PM on February 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have a closet full of plastic store bags and paper bags as well. I bring them to the store and the checkout person looks at me or my wife like we just beamed down in front of him/her.

But it's okay because we always bag our own stuff. Even at places that don't have a bag your own lane. Why? Because most baggers don't understand the simple stuff. Soft on top, hard and heavy on the bottom. Frozen in one bag, double at least. Eggs in their own bag. The occasional cake or pie NOT UPSIDE DOWN OR SIDEWAYS.

Don't worry bag person, stand aside. Take a break.

In the Red Hook Fairway the bagger was amazed when I pulled out the little shelf at the end of the conveyor. She actually thought that was a seat. She never used it until the store closed, because she wasn't allowed to sit while bagging. I am not fucking kidding. She didn't understand that it was a platform upon which one placed a bag while filling it.

I re use bags constantly and you want to know a secret? They last a long damn time.

YMMV. Close Cover Before Striking. Do not taunt happy fun ball.
posted by Splunge at 5:05 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


maiamaia: Young people seem to wash everything on 30 degrees and use no bleach, but then they leave food on the plates they wash too. Culture-change.

Dishwashers are gigantically better than they used to be. Twenty and thirty years ago, their cleaning power was very limited. You had to rinse everything off before loading it.

Modern dishwashers, man, they are amazing. You stick pretty much ANYTHING in one and it'll come out clean, even all dried out and crusty. Sometimes they can even get burned food off your pots and pans. Most dishwashers have a small garbage disposal built right in; any food waste is ground up very small and dumped into the sewer. And the detergents are much better, too, but I think they're also more caustic, so you have to be more careful about what you dishwash. It'll dull and pit knives like crazy.

They're not being stupid or lazy by just dumping the dishes in, they know something you don't. :-)

jacquilynne: In my experience, it's sometimes really difficult to get dogs not to eat cat shit.

My sister has dogs that love to do that. She's taken to calling it Kitty Roca.
posted by Malor at 5:13 PM on February 20, 2011


A note in favour of reusable bags: I don't see them flocking in the branches of the trees beside highrises like those disposable plastic bags.
posted by TimTypeZed at 5:58 PM on February 20, 2011


Dishwashers are gigantically better than they used to be.

I gotta derail and say that this has not been my experience at all. We're on our third new dishwasher* at Casa Jamaro and I have to prewash (how I hate that word) far more than I ever do with the vintage 70s era goldenrod-colored Maytag at my dad's house. Maybe it's just the loss of phosphates in the detergent but man, it feels like I curse our dishwasher's performance every other day.
posted by jamaro at 6:25 PM on February 20, 2011


TimTypeZed: "A note in favour of reusable bags: I don't see them flocking in the branches of the trees beside highrises like those disposable plastic bags"

Or like the Mylar balloons that have been in the tree across the street for three years now.
posted by Splunge at 7:05 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ugh. "New research shows that shit isn't nearly as bad for your wallpaper as wax crayons are."

WELL THEN I GUESS I'LL JUST POOP UP THE WALL

I MEAN THERE'S CLEARLY NO REASON NOT TO

posted by Sys Rq at 12:43 AM on February 21, 2011


"New research shows that shit isn't nearly as bad for your wallpaper as wax crayons are."

Okay. But crayons taste better.
posted by Splunge at 12:52 AM on February 21, 2011


Most landfills are "sanitary landfills", which are explicitly designed to minimize biological action.

Lots of sanitary landfills have landfill gas capture systems. Here are some examples: one (3MW of electricity produced), two (3.5MW), three (11.4MW).
posted by jedicus at 6:55 AM on February 21, 2011


I might be a bit extreme but I even reuse the flimsy plastic bags used for separating different produce. These thin bags I fold and put into a little coin purse that I keep in my handbag. There's also a thin nylon cloth bag in the handbag that can carry most things bought from the mall or drugstores. The heavy-duty reusable grocery bags are kept in the car passenger seat pockets.

Once you get used to the routine of 1. taking bags with you into any shop 2. saying "I don't need a bag." to the salesperson, it's all very simple, really. But I have yet got my husband into the habit, so the plastic bags he brings back on his (occasional) grocery trips are used for trash bin lining.
posted by of strange foe at 10:14 AM on February 21, 2011


I can't stand most of the reusable bags that stores either give you or offer for sale. They're about as flimsy as plastic bags. Yes, they can be mended (3M Extreme Packaging Tape works very well), but it's a pain. Most of my bags are some sort of cotton blend for that reason.

And is it just me, or do reusable bags tend to get overloaded? I can't tell you the number of times I've had empty reusable bags put in my cart, only to use them once I got to my car when I tried unloading the bag that has 3 half gallon containers in it (milk, juice, epsom salts).
posted by luckynerd at 10:46 AM on February 21, 2011


Assuming the paper isn't just making things up and has any sense of scientific process, they *probably* collected some data on what happens to all the plastic, paper and cotton bags. Not just some anecdota from people on the internet.

Just because plastic and paper are capable of being recycled or reused more than plastic doesn't mean that the majority of it is.

There was just a discussion here about coffee cups. The same thing happened: data said that on average, foam cups have the least environmental impact, unless you are using and re-using a ceramic mug something like 1000 times. It might in your kitchen, but not the average kitchen.

That's because (and I suspect the case here too) that recycling the manufacturing and recycling process of plastics are not nearly as energy intensive as the alternatives. Unless everyone is using the "eco friendly" alternatives to their absolute limit of usability, the numbers (I presume) favor the plastic alternative.

Also, aren't most of these plastic shopping bags mostly cornstarch and post-consumer recycled content anyway?
posted by gjc at 1:58 PM on February 21, 2011


My city will be banning plastic bags later this year. It doesn't really bother me all that much, although I am terrible at remembering to bring the cloth ones along with me to the supermarket. To be honest the terrible quality of the plastic bags usually leads them to tear from the strain of holding too many items as it is, so fabric generally works better anyway.

There's no perfect solution, but I do think responsibly used, the fabric bags are a better bet.
posted by Lina Lamont at 11:24 PM on February 21, 2011


To be honest the terrible quality of the plastic bags usually leads them to tear from the strain of holding too many items as it is, so fabric generally works better anyway.

One of the more interesting aspects of Toronto's 5 cent mandatory bag price has been the vast improvement in the quality of shopping bags you get in grocery stores when you forget your re-usables. They're bigger, stronger and much more reliable than they used to be. Double-bagging is essentially unnecessary with the nice new bags that we're getting.

On the other hand, I suspect that means that the people who do get plastic bags are now getting 3 or 4 times as much actual plastic in them, which may be slightly defeating the purpose of the mandatory minimum bag price.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:26 AM on February 22, 2011


New grocer (sendiks) opened in my town recently. Their plastic bags are super heavy duty. At first, I was irritated, thinking how irresponsible they are. But I emded up with a few . . . Found myself reusing them for everything - need a gym bag? Grab a sendiks bag. Too many books to carry? Sendiks bag. The key being the thickness I thought was bad. But it actually made them way more reusable. I smile to myself having noticed coworkers doing the same.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 10:59 PM on February 22, 2011


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